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Published: January 15th 2013
Ty was straight to the hammock and barely left
From Luang Prabang we took another long, windy, mountainous, beautifully scenic bus ride to Vang Vieng. Vang Vieng used to be Laos' party capital with bars set up all along the river so tubers would stop for a few drinks before continuing along the lazy river. All of those businesses were demolished a few months ago for a couple of reasons. First of all there were about 22 deaths last year alone from the unsafe zip-lines, “death slide”, tarzan ropes and other ways of jumping into the – very low during dry season – river. Secondly, Laos hosted the most recent ASEAN conference and needed to create a better image. When tourists are dying due to your party scene it doesn't look good to the rest of South-East Asia's tourism counterparts. That being said the town is now unbelievably relaxed and chilled out. If you're looking for a party, you can certainly still find it. There are a number of bars still operating in town that are open to the wee hours, however the drinking laws and business regulations have been hugely restructured. One of the first people we met said he loved the town because there was a place just
Welcome to Vang Vieng sunset
our bungalows are just across that bridge
down the street selling mushroom shakes and happy pizzas which shows that the heart of what Vang Vieng used to be is still alive and kicking.
We found awesome bungalows to stay at across the bamboo bridge on the other side of the river. Ironically enough, the bungalows we stayed at were called Otherside Bungalows. Paul was able to get his own bungalow with bathroom and hot shower for 40,000 Kip while the two of us shared a bungalow with the same amenities for 60,000 Kip (approximately $7.50CDN). There were horses grazing in the field right next to us, we had an enchanting view of Vang Vieng's karst scenery, were a short 2 minute walk into town and still had plenty of peace and quiet. We're pretty sure we found the best digs in town!!
Tyler's foot slowed us down quite a bit (he injured it in Chiang Mai during a balloon stomping game ) and we stuck to a couple of the closest restaurants for meals but were happy to go into town for food then retreat back to our oasis to relax. After our long bus ride we all had a pretty quiet evening.
Our first full day we decided to float down the river to see what the hype was all about – apparently it is a rite of passage in Laos. At around noon we gathered a few things in a waterproof bag and headed to the tube rental. 60,000Kip (each) later and a 20 minute tuk-tuk ride we were let off with our tubes. The water was a bit chilly but was easy enough to get used to. Once we were all comfy in our tubes we cracked our first beers and floated along with a few other backpackers. The Nam Song River has got to be the laziest river we've ever been on. Wally World has nothing on this scenic beauty. We floated around endless bends amongst karst, fishermen and the odd ray of sun even poked through the otherwise overcast day. It was evident in some places where a bar used to stand or where a “death slide” used to fling people into the river; without them the river was a perfect way to spend a lazy afternoon. Once in a while we would get caught up in different currents and be a few hundred feet away but could
always see each other basking in the peace and quiet. At one point Rebecca had an altercation with a floating tree that caused her to lose a flip-flop. Luckily the flip-flop floated down stream and she was able to catch up with it later. Since it is dry season, we came across a few rapids that were quite shallow and would have got caught on the rocks without a little push but other than that we simply floated. By the end (it took about 2 and a half hours) we were ready to get out. We hadn't prepared properly for a couple of reasons: 1. we only brought 2 beers/person and it's clearly a 3-4 beer river; 2. we left a little late, we had underestimated the time it would take and ended up getting back to Vang Vieng at about 4 when the sun was starting to set. Other than that is was amazing in so many ways! Floating down a river should always be the way to see nearby scenery... riding a bike is overrated.
That evening we met a nice couple at dinner (an Aussie and a German in their late 40's) and invited them back
to our bungalows for a bon fire. One of the bungalow staff started a fire for us in a jiffy and we all sat around having a few drinks, talking about travel and life, listening to some great tunes (from their generation) and learning a lot from each other in terms of how we perceive different things – not only because of the age difference but also culturally. It was a really fun evening and I don't think they expected to stay as long as they did. It wasn't until all the wood had burned that we called it a night, or early morning.
As usual after a day of casual drinking, we were pretty slow moving the next day. We went for breakfast then retreated to our bungalows for a nap. When we finally emerged from our caves we ran into Robyn and Michael (from the night before) who seemed to be having a similar day. They had just finished their lunch and were heading back to their hotel for a nap. Did we mention that Michael is a business lawyer and Robyn an emerge doctor? That also made the bon fire conversation interesting.
Anyway! We didn't
do a whole lot on our second day but eat and sleep and watch reruns of TV shows on our laptop. Paul was leaving the next morning though so we went out for a fantastic dinner and had a beer before calling it an early night.
8 am we were woken up by Paul knocking on the door asking if we were ready for breakfast, we quickly got dressed and went for the last meal with our buddy. After that we said our good-byes. He was off to Vientiane for a night before a long trip home. It was really fantastic having him with us for the last 5 weeks! We loved having the extra companion and there was rarely a dull moment. In the end, he was looking forward to getting back to work (and the hockey season) and we were ready for it to be just us again (after a couple of months with other travel buddies).
We had a few extra lazy days in Vang Vieng to ourselves. Most of the time we were very lazy – hammocks and sunshine tend to do that. On our final afternoon we did end up renting bikes to
explore a bit of the countryside. We biked along a very bumpy rocky road, through a rice field, we saw a few villages, rode over wooden bridges, alongside cows herding single file down the road (how proper) and then just as we were turning around Rebecca's pedal fell off. The bikes really were crap. So she walked back to town while Tyler rode slowly beside and ended up getting most of our money back for the broken bike (happy they didn't try to charge US for the broken pieces).
Our final morning was BEAUTIFUL! It was looking to be the best day so far and we seriously contemplated staying even longer. The river was calling and it would have been a perfect day to float down the Nam Song again. But we decided to stick to our plan (since we had already purchased a bus ticket) and packed up our bags.
At 1:30 we were on a bus to the capital of Laos, Vientiane.
Xoxo Ty + Becs
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